All the hype with the women's basketball team centers around junior Tamara Bowie's bid for a second-straight Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and senior Shala Crook's campaign for MAC Defensive Player of the Year. But when you ask either one of them, they would give up those titles if it meant winning the league crown and going to the NCAA Tournament in March.
With the poise and and composure of a veteran team, the young Cardinals (16-4 overall, 8-1 MAC) have used a total team attack all season to post one of the best records in Ball State history.
"I think (bench play) will be the theme for us the rest of the year," head coach Tracy Roller said. "I believe our bench is so strong, that the more they contribute, the more it will benefit our team."
Freshman Kate Endress is making her own headlines, as she is a leading candidate for league freshman of the year. But the former Evansville Memorial Tiger has taken a new playing view from her high school days, leading the bench attack that has been so vital to the team's success.
"I'm happy about my role this year," Endress said. "I can come off the bench and do whatever I can to help our team win."
Tonight, the team faces one of the bottom teams in the MAC, Eastern Michigan (12-8, 5-4 ). However, as the Eagles employ a zone defense the Cardinals have not seen this season. For the offensively driven Cardinals, Roller said she is concerned with Eastern's defensive scheme.
"I'm more worried about how we're going to score if they play a lot of zone (defense)," Roller said. "The way we started the last couple games and the way we're not scoring in the first half... I'm more worried about our offense right now.
In order to keep the Eagles on their toes, the Cardinals need to work on ball reversal, not letting Eastern get settled in its defensive set and get easier looks at the basket.
"Against a zone," Roller said. "You have so many open looks, we just have to knock them down and not think about it."
Having used defense to win the last two games, Roller said is not too worried about trying to contain Wiseman.
"I feel real solid about our defense," Roller said. "We can do so many things out of man defense to help out, shifting people over to handle Wiseman in the post."
Facing one of the best point guards in the league in Smiley, Crook has the task of contain the Eagles' emotional leader on the floor. Still, Crook said she is not taking a different approach, as she has played against Smiley for three years and knows how she plays.
With the game being the second in the Cardinals' three-game home stand, Roller said winning at home is extremely important, especially with how difficult it is to win on the road in league play. The Cards are undefeated this season at home, going 7-0.
"We think about (winning at home) all the time," Roller said. "For us, that was one of our goals this year was to hold the home court."
With such a star-studded team that has seemed to gel at the right time, the hardest opponent for the Cardinals could be themselves. But Roller said this team has not even come close to playing time disputes.
"The answer I always get (about playing time)," Roller said. "'Coach, we don't care as long as we win.'"